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Research gives new meaning to bums on seats

27 December 2006

Research gives new meaning to bums on seats

A digital model of the human buttocks engineered at The University of Auckland is set to bring new levels of comfort to office workers and wheelchair users.

Masters student Sarah Cox, from the Faculty of Engineering's Bioengineering Institute, is using advanced computational and mathematical modelling techniques to create anatomically correct virtual buttocks.

Miss Cox's research will be used by Formway, a New Zealand-based office furniture company, which approached the University looking for scientific input into chair design.

"The goal is for Formway to have a virtual model of the buttocks to use each time it designs a new chair to predict how the muscles will react," Miss Cox says.

The virtual model will demonstrate what happens to the muscles beneath the skin on sitting – something that cannot be achieved using a real person – allowing Formway to scientifically assess the comfort of their designs before they are built.

Miss Cox's research is based on data collected from a male cadaver in the National Library of Medicine's Visible Human Project. Images and measurements from the cadaver are used to create a model of the buttocks incorporating 30 muscles in the pelvic region, and the pelvis and leg bones.

This data is combined with existing hamstring and quadriceps models developed at the Bioengineering Institute, providing the most detailed and complex computer representation of the human buttocks achieved so far in the world.

The end product will demonstrate what happens to the buttock muscles of an average male when he sits.

"We know a lot about seats but we don't know much about where pressure is exerted in muscles and how they deform in a seated position," Miss Cox says.

"We hope it will provide valuable information about how chair design can be altered to relieve pressure in the legs and buttocks."

It is hoped the research will also be used in wheelchair design to prevent pressure sores, developed by those seated in one position for long periods of time. There are also plans to widen the scope of the project to reflect more buttock shapes and sizes.

The Human Buttock/Chair Interface Project is funded by a Bright Future Enterprise Scholarship, awarded to Miss Cox earlier this year by the Tertiary Education Commission. Under the scholarship, the government matches any research funding provided by Formway.

The Bioengineering Institute is known worldwide for its groundbreaking computational modelling of human physiology. It has successfully engineered a virtual heart, kidneys and gastrointestinal system to name a few.


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